Last November, Western Middle School runner A.C. Robertson recently had completed his cross country season, though he felt unusually tired. Shortly after, his mother noticed a lump in his neck that would change their lives forever.
After discovering the lump, Robertson’s mother, Andrea Robertson, took him to the doctor’s office to make sure it wasn’t serious. Doctors determined it wasn’t mono but thought it could be strep throat. A few days after starting antibiotics, Robertson’s condition worsened drastically. Andrea rushed Robertson to the hospital, never expecting her athletic, spicy food connoisseur, video-gaming, outdoorsy, animal-loving son to have cancer.
“It’s almost like a shock. When it goes so fast, things just happen very, very quickly. They were always telling us, ‘We got to do this next. We got to do this next,’ and I think because it moved so fast, there just wasn’t a lot of time to process it. The doctors, the nurses, the team has always been positive. They told us right off the bat there’s a five-year cure rate at 70-percent. So, those were always pretty good numbers for us,” Andrea said.
Tumors around Robertson’s neck, heart, and lungs caused the fatigue that hindered him from standing or breathing easily. Eventually, the tumors caused one of his lungs to collapse, and he immediately was transferred to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis where doctors ran numerous tests before administering Robertson's first dose of chemotherapy 18 hours later.
Robertson was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
A month later, Robertson went back to Indianapolis to be tested again for signs of cancer in his body. Fortunately, most of the tumors were gone, and currently, he still has no detectable signs of cancer in his blood.
However, treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is approximately a two-and-a-half year-long process. Since the cancer causes the body to produce too many abnormal lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell), the treatments aim to prevent the cancer from returning.
“It’s just trying to reset the brain and the way it makes blood cells. We just don’t want it to come back. There’s no cancer now. It’s just a protocol they follow for the staging for him,” Andrea said.
Andrea said it was difficult to see Robertson in ICU when he had numerous wires and tubes on his body and couldn’t eat on his own. However, he never complained, which made the situation much easier to get through, according to her.
During the first few months of 2020, Robertson had severe pancreatitis, leaving him essentially bedridden. Still, he never complained, Andrea said, and even though it was hard to watch him suffer, she always had something else to focus on.
“You just can’t get in your head. I just had a lot of faith. We all do. We have a lot of faith that I feel like there’s lessons in everything. This wouldn’t have happened if there wasn’t something good to come out of it. It’ll definitely change us all. We all just try to have a positive perspective with that,” Andrea said.
Due to Robertson's weakened immune system, Robertson is high-risk for COVID-19, which has prevented him from getting out of the house much. Andrea said it was a “bummer” they are not able to participate in events around the community or go on family vacations, but she said she knows the family will be able to participate in fun activities again.
Along with Robertson's weakened immune system, one of the chemotherapy drugs he takes causes neuropathy – making his hands and feet numb. Since he cannot lift his feet entirely, Robertson currently suffers from drop-foot, causing him to stumble over his toes sometimes.
“He can still walk pretty well, and his balance is pretty good … He can’t run by any means. He can kind of walk really fast … But as far as running and playing sports, you just don’t know how it’s going to be,” Andrea said.
Robertson has been receiving physical therapy, and he walks for at least 40 minutes at home every day. When his immune system has improved, Andrea said she hopes to get him outside and walking much more.
“You’re trying to play this game of keeping him protected but also keeping him socialized and exercised. It’s kind of tough,” Andrea said.
Robertson will state his freshman year at Western High School virtually in the fall. He's unsure if he will be ready for athletics yet. The cross country and soccer teams said they would keep a spot on the teams for him, according to Andrea, but there is still so much uncertainty.
After Western Middle School’s Valentine’s Day dance in February, his classmates held a “second-time around” dance to benefit Robertson the following night. The Robertson family currently has a GoFundMe account set up for Robertson’s medical expenses; however, Andrea said she considers her family to be pretty lucky.
“We have a GoFundMe thing that brings in a couple thousand dollars, but we consider ourselves pretty fortunate. We have decent insurance. And [there are] high co-pays, but even St. Vincent’s can help with some of that,” Andrea said.
Andrea said she and Robertson both share the same mentality when it comes to his cancer and focus on remaining positive.
“I just know so many people in the last couple years that have lost family members through accidents or cancer or anything. They’ve lost them. And you go to Peyton Manning, and you see these people that have these horrible cancers where they’re literally just cutting off arms and legs to keep the cancer from growing. He’s still here to fight, and we consider ourselves pretty lucky,” Andrea said.
When Andrea asked Robertson if there was anything he wanted to share with the public, he said, “Tell them I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”
Andrea thanked the staff at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital for their care, the principals and teachers of Western School Corp. for their support, and everyone else for all their thoughts and prayers.